May 26, 2007
COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Notre Dame track & field teams picked up three more automatic qualifiers for the NCAA Championship during Saturday’s second and final day of competition at the NCAA Mideast Regional, held inside Audrey J. Walton Stadium on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Mo.
Freshman Jaclyn Espinoza (Keizer, Ore./Regis) was the most notable NCAA qualifier for the Irish on Saturday, as she placed fifth in the discus with a personal-best throw of 165 feet, 7 inches (50.48 meters). It was the third-longest toss in school history, and makes Espinoza just the second Notre Dame female ever to break 50 meters in the event. Perhaps more important than that was the fact that Espinoza becomes the first Irish female thrower ever to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championship, and the first Notre Dame thrower of either gender to do so since 1945, when Joe Kelly advanced in both the shot put and discus.
Sophomore Blair Majcina (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) also earned a little piece of program history on Saturday, tying for fourth place in the high jump with a personal-best leap of 6 feet, 11 inches (2.11 meters). That puts Majcina into the NCAA Championship for the first time, and makes him the first Irish male high jumper to qualify for outdoor nationals since 1968, when Ed Broderick turned the trick.
Senior All-American Kurt Benninger (Chepstow, Ontario/Walkerton D.S.S.) was the other Notre Dame athlete to automatically earn a berth at the NCAA Championship, placing third in the 1,500-meter run with a time of 3:44.98. It will be Benninger’s third trip to nationals, and second at this distance following his 2003 qualification. He also advanced to last year’s NCAAs in the 5,000 meters, but failed to place.
Sophomore Anna Weber (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli) may not have qualified for the NCAA finals in the hammer throw, but she did still carve out her place in Irish lore, breaking the school record in the event on Saturday with a ninth-place heave of 185 feet, 4 inches (56.50 meters). That topped her own school mark of 184 feet even (56.09 meters), which she set at the BIG EAST Championship earlier this month.
Junior Jake Watson (Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater Area) finished seventh in the 1,500 meters in 3:45.96, ending up 0.74 seconds shy of the top-five finish needed for automatic NCAA advancement. Still, he could be selected for an at-large berth to the NCAA Championship if his qualification time is among the tops in the country for those competitors who didn’t automatically qualify at this weekend’s regionals.
Senior Todd Ptacek (Benton Harbor, Mich./Lake Michigan Catholic) came up just shy in his bid for NCAA advancement, placing sixth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in a personal-best time of 8:47.87 that is good for eighth on the school’s all-time Top 10 list. Like Watson, Ptacek could earn an at-large berth based upon his time on Saturday night.
Senior All-American Thomas Chamney (Tipperary, Ireland/St. Columba’s) is another Notre Dame runner who will be seeking an at-large bid after coming in seventh in the 800-meter final with a time of 1:48.57. Chamney was the defending Mideast Regional champion in the event, and is hoping for a chance to build upon his eighth-place and All-America showing at last year’s NCAA meet.
Freshman Balazs Molnar (Dunaujvaros, Hungary/Szechenyi Istvan) ran into a bit of bad luck — literally — in his quest for an NCAA berth. Molnar chopped out on a couple of hurdles early in his 400-meter hurdles final and finished eighth in 55.44 seconds, well off his season-best pace of 51.5 set last month. That top time could still be enough to propel the Hungarian rookie into the NCAAs as an at-large participant.
In the team standings, the Notre Dame men garnered 23.5 points to finish in 14th place. The Irish women collected 14 points, which put them in a tie for 17th on the final regional ladder. LSU took home both regional titles on Saturday, winning the men’s crown with 70 points and the women’s championship with 112 points.
Espinoza, Majcina and Benninger, as well as fifth-year senior Molly Huddle (5,000/10,000 meters) and sophomore Patrick Smyth (5,000 meters), now will turn their attention to the NCAA Championship, which is scheduled for June 6-9 at the Alex Spanos Complex in Sacramento, Calif. Additional Irish competitors could be awarded at-large bids when those are announced on Tuesday.
— ND —